I wound up having a conversation about advertising with Steph and Jac before my previous post was actually posted. I thought I’d share another insight that came out of our conversation.
In my last post, I argued that advertising works because it appeals to spiritual realities that, by and large, our culture has no genuine idea of how to deal with, giving the example of our need for acceptance. I believe that another spiritual reality that advertising appeals to is a deep-seated knowledge that there is something wrong with us. This is what Christianity spells out in the doctrine of sin: there is something wrong with us. Sin is a very unfashionable word, but you find this same reality expressed in a variety of ways, because there’s no honest way to get away from it. Existentialist philosophy calls it angst (anxiety), while popular psychology calls it insecurity.
We all know that there’s something wrong with us, and we deeply crave a fix. This is where the toxic spirituality of advertising comes in. Products can be marketed to us on the simple premise that, if they can define our problem and offer a solution, they have us all tied up. Look and listen the next time you’re exposed to advertising, and you’ll see how insidious this really is.
An example: in the past few years, we’ve been told that we have a serious problem that most of us weren’t too aware of previously. This problem would be yellow teeth. We can’t have that, now can we? Having reduced our knowledge of brokenness to something as trivial and insignificant as yellow teeth, we are offered salvation in a Crest whitening strip.
4 responses to “Advertising as Toxic Spirituality II”
Some good thoughts.
While I wholly agree that advertising is largely an immoral industry, utilizing human insecurity (fallenness, if you will) as a void in which to insert their product-of-choice as salvific solutions, I sometimes wonder whether the often-present cynicism toward our western machine, for lack of a better word, among those who think in this way is productive (perhaps I shouldn’t polarize the issue so much). It seems to me that those (myself included) who are passionate about the said immorality of advertisers are often quite cynical, finding agreement only among those of like-mind. I’m not sure what a more moderate approach is – and I wrestle with being moderate about something as appalling as the lies so often told by advertisers – but I’m fairly sure that if we wish to convince/persuade others about the perils of buying into the empty promises (lies) of advertising we will be more successful with a more moderate approach.
What do you think? Is there a morally moderate position in this case?
Good wrestling there bro.
I’m thinking that the issue isn’t so much about moderation. I think it’s more an issue of priorities. I would say that loving the good is a virtue, part of which is the need to point out the bad.
The problem becomes when pointing out the bad is all that we do. This is what becomes cynicism, because we no longer believe that the good is possible, nor do we believe that anyone actually desires it, ourselves included.
Or I could be way off base.
Agreed. Moderation is a probably a poor choice of words. You nonetheless caught what I was saying.
Why does passion for social issues so often turn into cynicism? Must be a pride issue, you know, where we’re out to show others that we’re right and they’re wrong.
Perhaps pride, then, is a better word than cynical. In the context of ones “enlightened” to the underlying deceitfulness of advertising, we’re now better than those who have not yet been enlightened.
I listened to a bit of an interview with Shane Claiborne today. He had done the whole protesting bit for a while, and then he said, (paraphrased) “I spent a lot of time knowing what I was against, but it took me a while to discover what I was for.”